This is a two part post of my journey to realising that I am very much on the outside of society looking in.
We’ve recently advertised a room for rent and some of the people responding to the advert have led me to understand something about myself that’s probably been obvious to most for a very long time.
Idoya and I are different from the norm when it comes to the church in New Zealand, I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘unique’ but many of our philosophies and ideas would not be considered ‘mainstream’ or ‘majority’ held positions in the church.
Case and point how we treat, and what we think of the gay community.
I had an experience in the weekend where I chatted with a delightful young Christian lady about our room (let’s call her Sarah), she seemed keen to move in, in fact Sarah went so far as to say she wanted the room. She was excited about some of the adventures into Christianity that Idoya and I have been on in the last few years and was very complimentary, encouraging, and excited by elephantTV.
As a side note, elephantTV is a resource primarily aimed at the church to help with controversial topics. We don’t take a position, we don’t endorse a perspective, we just provide information from different viewpoints all held within the church. We did this to help the church have these conversations in a safe, balanced, intelligent, unbiased way and to help members of the church understand how other Christians can have an opposing view to them, and still be ‘Christians’.
Back to the last weekend’s conversation.
Idoya and I were talking about Sarah and thought that we needed to be clear on a few things that may happen in our home, and maybe of a couple of philosophies we live by as we didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable in the future, and we didn’t want any guests who visit our house feeling uncomfortable either. We wanted to inform Sarah not because it had anything to do with her…but because there is sadly within the church an amount of lip-service paid to the idea of treating everyone equally, respectfully and with love, when at times the exact opposite happens.
Thus began the phone conversation
[Pat] So we just wanted to see how you would feel, if you moved in, having our gay friends around, maybe sitting together at the table and being affectionate with one another.
[Sarah] Yeah I’d be fine with that.
[Pat] So it wouldn’t make you uncomfortable? The last thing we want is to set up an environment where either you, or any of our guests would not feel welcomed in our home.
[Sarah] No I’d be fine with that…I would feel uncomfortable if they stayed the night in the same room.
[Pat] Okay, how about if it was an unmarried straight couple staying the night in the same room?
[Sarah] Yeah, I’d be uncomfortable with that as well for the same reasons.
[Pat] What is it was my wife’s sister and her partner visiting from Christchurch?
[Sarah] Oh, well that’d be a bit different because family is always okay, in fact it’s a bit hypocritical but my brother and his partner stayed in our flat in the same room not too long ago.
[Sarah] So can I ask you what your position is on what the bible says about homosexuality?
[Pat] Well I’d have to say that the majority of theologians say it’s ungodly and a ‘sin’, but there is a growing number of scholars, many of them younger, that are offering alternative theories on what the bible says and how it can be interpreted for me I don’t really have a ‘position’.
[Sarah] Do you think someone who is gay can be a Christian?
[Pat] Absolutely! I know too many people who are gay, who are so obviously in a deep meaningful, personal relationship with their God. I can see it in their eyes, hear it on their lips and witness it in their actions. But even apart from my personal view if one was to consider homosexuality a ‘sin’, and I’m not saying that is my position necessarily, what you’re asking me is if a sinner can be a Christian…I kind of think that’s a pre-requisite of being a Christian. But anyway, for me the ‘theological’ arguments behind homosexuality or that particular question is not really something I care about, or feel the need to answer.
[Sarah] Why’s that?
[Pat] Well there are a couple of really good clips on YouTube. One featuring Phil Snider and the other Tony Campolo. Phil points out in a very clever way how the church has made lots of ‘absolute claims’ in years gone by that sound a lot like what the church is saying today about the gay community, yet those absolutes from years ago have changed. Tony Campolo tells the heart wrenching story of a late night phone call with a mother whose gay son has recently committed suicide but finishes the piece explaining away one of the biggest misnomers that has been spread around the church forever and a day and that is the idea that we should “love the sinner and hate the sin.”
As an aside the ‘love the sinner hate the sin‘ saying was made popular by Ghandi in his 1929 biography where he incorrectly cited a piece of St Augustine’s writing. Correctly translated Augustine’s original text would be ‘with love for mankind and hatred of sins’ which personally I interpret as being about the issue of ‘sinning’ as a whole, not towards an individual person.
[Pat] Campolo explains that this misinterpretation, even though much repeated, is “just the opposite of what Jesus says” because what Jesus told people to do was “love the sinner, and hate your own sin.”
[Sarah] Preach it Pat
(Whilst this recount is not verbatim and I have definitely expanded on my thoughts to make my conversation more concise and intelligent sounding, there was actually a ‘Preach it Pat’ when I talked about ‘hating your own sin’)
I then quantified the conversation by saying that I wasn’t saying that either of these guys had all the answers; they were just points that resonated with me, and my philosophies towards people.
[Pat] I think that showing love to someone in my home is one of the highest callings, making people feel welcomed and accepted and loved is one of the most Christ-like things someone can do I think the church has messed up big time how she has handled the gay community and I think if you truly love someone, they will come away feeling loved and I think that the gay community, no matter what your personal/spiritual/theological/academic position is on them, have been treated appallingly by the church when it was her job to love them and worry about her own ‘sins’ of which there are a multitude.
So we left the conversation there and I honestly felt hopeful that maybe we’d found someone who may be smart enough, confident enough, and genuine enough to be, as Mother Teresa said, Jesus with skin on and we agreed to talk about it again in 24 hours to see what she thought.
24 hours later, the text comes through. A very polite and lovely toned ‘thanks but no thanks’, sadly I can’t say I was surprised.
It’s been 12 months since we filmed elephantTV and I have to say that I have been a little disappointed with the take up, and I think what the conversation with Sarah did was finally convince me that Christians are not ready yet to have genuine conversations about the hard issues. I think many Christians are fearful of having their mindset challenged and are concerned that new ideas might rock their faith. I have to say that I think we all need our faith rocked a little more often. Iron sharpening iron comes to mind.
I cannot say for sure why Sarah accepted the room and then after our conversation declined it, but my hunch is that we just don’t fit with the Christian majority narrative, of which she is a part. I’m talking about the standard narrative about what a Christian is meant to be, do, act and think. We gave Sarah a scenario that may not have actually happened while she was living here, one of a gay or a straight unmarried couple sleeping over and that scenario was too much. I think Sarah is an example of where the church is at the moment. The church is enthusiastically wanting people to preach about loving sinners and hating their own sin, but not comfortable with what that actually means.
What would loving the drug addict, the paedophile, the thief, the adulterer, the manic depressive really look like? While at the same time we just worry about our own crap…nothing more, nothing less. I don’t think most of us can do it. I know that sounds really arrogant and trust me I am not holding myself up as the example here, I stuff up as much, if not more than the next person, but I think it’s true. For me it’s shown me that even to dream it, to hope to attain it, to love the gay community, or any other person or group with who shakes the traditional Christian narrative, with no agenda whatsoever, causes me to be on the outside looking in.
I realised the moment that I read that text that came through from Sarah that I was an outsider, and I’ve always been an outsider. That was the moment when it was finally made clear to me that I am a minority, that I don’t fit, that I can have nice conversations with people about issues, but when push comes to shove there is an invisible line that I am happy to jump across and think, and feel, and talk, and question that most are not prepared to do. Please don’t read this as arrogant, because the realisation is not fun, it’s isolating, and it only leads to two possible conclusions. Either I’m way off base and heading in the wrong direction…or the church is and neither of those outcomes are particularly attractive.
Part two of this post will be up early next week